In response to:

The Heavenly Deception from the October 25, 1979 issue

To the Editors:

In Francine du Plessix Gray’s response to the several books on Unification, she has fallen into a common trap and got herself stuck in what I call the simple outrage stage. It goes with a preference for the lurid, yellow journalism type of reporting on cults.

What cults can do to individuals is indeed terrible. Nobody understands that better than parents who have watched it happen to their family members. But in order to respond in a realistic and helpful way, Unification in all its complexity must be understood and described.

For many, if not most, Unification members, their membership is not experienced as one long nightmare. With painful honesty, Barbara Underwood has described the experience in all its multi-level realities. At the expense of personality and autonomy, membership can release from depression and personal crisis, it can provide strong religious feelings, it can give security. And therein lies its enormous threat, not defined as a simple-minded exercise to titillate but as the ambiguous, complex and baffling experience it is. Until this is fully reckoned with, we are helpless before it.

Though the hearing was intended to be the climax of Hostage to Heaven, to say that Barbara came out of Unification like a kid going down a slide is nonsense as any careful reading of pages 213-290 will attest. “…I have struggled to piece together my past, to regain the positive aspects of my surging idealism. It’s not easy to go from being a ‘world server’ to being just one person among billions. Especially as a lone student matriculating at a crowded undergraduate university, I often felt crippled…. Often I was depressed by the harshness of real life…. As I gradually and painfully learned to accept appropriate limits, I have said good-bye to many of my dreams…. I stormed through feelings of marginality, anonymity, and purposelessness.”

Here is no pendulum response to an experience simplistically described as a horror.

Several of the country’s major theologians have praised Hostage to Heaven. I believe far better than your reviewer they have understood its bitter, complex, and alarming implications.

The reviewer also made an unsubstantiated personal attack on the honesty of the writers which is not only unjustified but libelous.

Betty Underwood

Portland, Oregon

Francine Gray replies:

Timothy Miller’s attempt to obliterate differences between Reverend Moon’s Unification Church and other religious sects, his wonder as to why it should be more “singled out and subjected to hysterical denunciation,” totally overlooks the principal theme of my article: Unification Church’s extensive, cold-blooded use of deception toward its recruits. I took some pains to stress that young men and women persuaded to live in the indoctrination centers run by Reverend Moon are not told the name or the identity of the cult they’re being proselytized into until after the basic stages of behavior modification have been completed. If Dr. Miller can cite any other religious organization large or small (from Bahai’ to Sufi, from mainline Christianity to Buddhism) which recruits its converts with no statement of its principal tenets, with equal obfuscation of its true identity, I’d be glad to hear of it. Even People’s Temple showed more fundamental honesty toward its new members.

In answer to Mrs. Underwood: She quotes a passage that attests to the anxieties that her daughter suffered after her experience in deprogramming. I could quote many apposite passages which suggest that Barbara Underwood did not begin to reach the levels of anxiety described in the studies of Dr. Margaret Singer and numerous other psychiatrists who have documented the post-cult experience. Moreover, I took pains to stress, at the end of my review of the Underwoods’ book, what bothered me the most about Barbara Underwood’s first-person account: the striking nostalgia she still feels for life in Reverend Moon’s church. When she writes that she has not found “a community of worship as energizing” as the one using totalitarian techniques that have turned thousands of young Americans into lying hustlers, one can only wonder how successful the process of deprogramming has turned out to be. One is equally perturbed by her attachment to a system of values which continues to admire the sense of “being energized” at the expense of fundamental principles of human probity.

In an address given last November at the Reverend Moon’s yearly ICUS meeting, Professor Walter Kaufman, of Princeton University’s philosophy department, reported with some bitterness that “Several people who had agreed to appear on our program backed out after a review article in the New York Review of Books dealt harshly with these conferences and with the Unification Church.” If Mrs. Underwood and Mr. Miller are as dedicated as they claim to be to lessening the power of the Unification Church in the United States, I would think that they’d welcome critical journalism that contributes to that goal. Any such critical enterprise must by necessity focus on the techniques of “heavenly deception” which differentiate the Unification Church from most or all other sects in the religious spectrum. And it is bound to document the complex varieties of self-deception which this technique inevitably breeds, in turn, in the psyches of its converts.

This Issue

April 3, 1980